It doesn't take much to get me to watch a police procedural with Gillian Anderson in it. A certain amount of success is already baked into that cake. But, of course, it's by the Beeb. At a certain point, I just wonder how many victory laps the British are going to do around America to rub in their policy procedural superiority. We get it! But please don't stop. PLEASE DON'T STOP.
First and most importantly, The Fall is a five episode case study in how realism and moodiness need not get in the way of white-knuckled terror. For all its mumbly talk of departmental politics and Stella Gibson's (Anderson) witty and brutal takedowns of her colleagues apparent and subtle sexism, The Fall packs some sequences that will leave you holding your breath and jacked on adrenaline in a way that most horror movies don't and can't. It is precisely this contrast, doldrums and lulls followed by lightning urgency that make the grisly and creepy scenes so jarringly effective.
Anderson's character Gibson might start out looking like the misanthropic procedural type we've all come to know and expect (and are usually reserved for male types a la Luther), but she gives the character both a weariness and an aggression that makes it all her own. Dropped into the dysfunctional and leaky Belfast police that makes the Baltimore police in The Wire look like paragons of competence, Gibson is initially doing an Internal Affairs style look at a previous murder. When she quickly realizes it may be connected, a suggestion initially shrugged off by her superiors, the murderer strikes again. Gibson is quickly vindicated and takes over the investigation, hunting a serial killer played by Jamie Dornan.
Paul Spector (Dornan)'s methods aren't anything particularly flashy. There's none of the gruesome stuff with dismemberment, cannibalism, and the like we've become used to from shows like Hannibal and Dexter . Instead, his need to stage, clean, and manicure the single women who are his victims occupy a much more chilling and nauseating space. Spector hides in plain sight, of course, as a family man. This is another trope we've gotten used to in stories about serial killers, but Spector is much more unsettling considering that he hides his macabre journals in the ceiling of his young daughter's room. She has nightmares, of course. Who wouldn't? As Gibson closes in on Spector, who is constantly on the search for new victims, the tension ratchets up to nearly unbearable levels. The Fall 's first series ends in a cliffhanger that upset plenty of people when it aired, but is more than justified by the show's attempt to replicate the realistic pace of a police investigation.
I shouldn't short-change the rest of The Fall's ensemble, though. Niamh McGrady (a haunted beat cop who fails one of the killer's victim's), Sarah Beattie (Olivia Spector, Paul's suspicious wife), John Lynch (Gibson's boss), and Michael McElhatton (a corrupt cop caught by the murder investigation of another corrupt caught) all bring a lot of life and emotion to their parts as well. The Fall contains all sorts of side-stories that I would normally be upset about in such a limited series like this, but it does a lot of solid world-building about the complex web of interactions in Belfast in the way that shows like The Bridge on FX have been trying to do lately. They feel less like distraction than echoes and contrasts to the main plot.
Needless to say, if you like police procedurals and/or Gillian Anderson, you'd really be missing out not to see this. It's only five episodes, too, so no excuses!